Official: Israel Likely to Enter U.S. Visa Waiver Program by 2022

(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/File)

A Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday that he is optimistic that Israel will be added to the U.S. visa waiver program as soon as 2022.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said late on Tuesday that the United States is considering adding Israel to the program that allows citizens to come to America without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.

“We have in fact completed 90% of the bilateral negotiations,” a senior ministry source said.

“There are still obstacles, but the ministry is optimistic that there is genuine political intent to include Israel in the program, something that we have not seen in the past. If all goes to plan and no new difficulties appear, we can estimate that Israel would be part of the visa waiver program next year,” the source said.

afghans coming to u.s.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is set to travel to Washington next month to discuss the matter with Mayorkas.

The Foreign Ministry source said the ministry understands what must be done and will take all steps to ensure a favorable decision

“It is good that Israel is included on a list with most NATO countries and others who are considered to be U.S. allies. It is testimony to the American administration’s intent,” the source said.

Israel suggested creative solutions to overcome the major obstacle to its inclusion in the program, such as the high number of refusals issued to Israeli visa applicants — which today stands on 6.5%, though Israel claims the percentage was a miscalculation, citing those who canceled their plans to travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The two countries are still at odds over U.S. demands to end discrimination against Palestinian Americans upon their arrival in the country, including a quicker and less invasive treatment by Israeli security agencies.

The Foreign Ministry offered to launch an ad campaign calling on Israelis who are traveling to the U.S. not to violate the restrictions stipulated in their visas. The ministry also suggested the U.S. initially implement a two-year pilot program to examine possible violations.